Music History

Longtime Denver Band Jux County Returns With Signature 'Punktry' Sound

Jux County is releasing its first album since 2001’s Junk Country. The new collection of songs, titled Coral, represents the group’s latest phase since it reconvened in 2014, after years of on-and-mostly-off-again live shows as its members focused on projects and life outside the band.

Primary songwriter, guitarist and singer Andy Monley and bassist Chris Pearson spent the last half of the ’90s and the first half of the 2000s playing in slowcore/dream-pop band the Czars. Despite having strong material and enjoying an international audience, the Czars never fully broke into the musical big time.

“When the Czars started, Jux County pretty much took a break,” says Monley. “We were starstruck: This is the big time, baby.” And while that turned out not to be the case for the band as a whole, Czars keyboard player and lead vocalist John Grant went on to garner critical acclaim and commercial popularity.

Monley and Pearson departed not long after the Czars’ 2004 swan song, Goodbye, and before the 2006 dissolution of the band. But both had already cultivated a musical life outside of the Czars, including membership in Jux County, a popular group that, going back to its 1986 beginnings, had no small influence on the local scene. Monley had parted company with the psychedelic-punk band Acid Ranch and formed Jux County, which combined country and punk in a way that was unique to Denver. “We’re not punk, we’re not country, we’re not rock,” says Pearson. “My girlfriend’s daughter calls us ‘punktry.’”

For several years, Jux County was one of the most popular bands in the local rock scene, but the eyes of the national music industry were not on Denver at the time. But the lack of wider attention didn’t reflect a lack of talent or local interest. Pearson remembers seeing Jux County in 1991 at Jazzworks, a bar below the Wynkoop Brewing Company, two years before he and drummer Ron Smith joined the band; even though it was a small space, the crowd easily numbered more than 400.

Once Jux reunited, however, notions of where a band and its music might go were scaled back to more realistic proportions.

“When you’re young, you make albums thinking you’re going to put the album out and then you’re going to be famous and then you’re going to tour and all this shit’s going to happen,” says Monley. “Then you get older, and none of that stuff really matters anymore. It’s all about enjoying it and writing the best song you can write and making it as good as you can. And also not worrying about it. You want to make it the best you can make it but not worry about every little mistake. Believe me, there are more mistakes on this album than on any album we’ve ever made. But we decided to leave them in. It gives it feeling.”

As has been the case with Monley’s recent solo efforts and two albums from the trio’s Czars-era side project, Velveteen Monster, Coral was recorded with Colin Bricker at Notably Fine Productions. Written over the past two years, its songs take Jux County beyond the band’s classic sound into different territory, capturing the forcefulness of Monley’s live vocals. “It has a harder edge to it,” says Monley. “It’s a little more instrumental. The music is more free-flowing, more tinged with prog in [the way] that, to me, Can and Faust are prog.”

The album includes rare guest performances from, among others, guitarist Adrian Romero and Monley’s sister Julie on vocals for a cover of the Pretenders’ “The Wait”; it’s also the first Jux album that will not be released in physical form. Those interested can purchase the album from the band’s Bandcamp site, but anyone buying one of the group’s new T-shirts at a show will receive a download code.

The shirt design should be familiar to fans: It draws from Peter Saville’s design for the cover of the 1978 Joy Division album Unknown Pleasures, variations of which have been used for a ridiculous number of marketing campaigns. Monley, who was listening to Joy Division when Ian Curtis was still alive, is typically self-deprecating about missing that trend. “It’s the classic Joy Division Unknown Pleasures design, but with a cow skull,” he says. “I thought it was somewhat original, but it turns out fucking everyone’s done it. Always just a little bit behind the curve.”

Jux County
9 p.m. Friday, September 23, Syntax Physic Opera, 554 South Broadway, 720-456-7041, $7, 21+.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.